Politics

Will BBI cure Kenya's ethnic politics?

Will BBI cure Kenya's ethnic politics?
  • Without reference to notes, he delivered what seemed a heartfelt appeal to reason, breaking down the issues that divide Kenya and lead to violent elections and feelings of alienation and resentment.

  • Other than appealing for tolerance and honest dialogue, it was notably that neither the President nor Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto delved into preferred solutions.

It was a show of unity at State House as President Kenyatta delivered impassioned support for the Building Bridges Initiative after receiving a copy of the task force report before some 200 invited guests at State House.

SPECULATION

In an interesting turn of events, the President, opposition leader and Building Bridges co-sponsor Raila Odinga, and Deputy President William Ruto all seemed to read from the same script in favour of an initiative touted as the answer to a history of violent, ethnic-based politics.

The latter has stood out as a fierce foe of Building Bridges, with his supporters in the Jubilee Party’s Tangatanga faction publicly rejecting it as an Uhuru-Raila project aimed at blocking his rise to the presidency.

But speaking Tuesday, Dr Ruto was on conciliatory path, praising President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga for their patriotism in launching an initiative aimed at fostering a better future.

Without mentioning Dr Ruto by name, President Kenyatta debunked the notion that BBI was about sidelining his deputy or entering a new power-sharing deal Mr Odinga.

“There have been stories about some agenda for Uhuru and Raila to swap seats,” he said, most likely in reference to speculation that a new constitutional order could see him get around term limits by going for prime minister and the opposition chief for president.

PRECIPICE

He also denied that BBI was about creating extra seats for power-sharing deals or conspiring for or against individuals or communities.

He described the State House gathering as “yet another moment in the history of our country when we come together to pool our ideas and thoughts so we can forge a united front into the future”, calling on all Kenyans to now focus on inclusive, informed and honest debate on the BBI recommendations.

Mr Odinga, who spoke after Dr Ruto, spoke in much the same vein, but delved into the background leading to the historic ‘handshake’ with President Kenyatta on the steps of Harambee House in March last year.

“We looked for each other when we were on the brink of the precipice,” he said, recounting how 19-straight hours of a marathon one-on-one session with President Kenyatta discussed not just the contentious election, but looked back to other issues that have divided Kenya since independence.

EMPTY SEAT

He disclosed that at the first meeting, President Kenyatta drove himself to the venue without the usual retinue of aides and security guards, and he did the same.

Mr Odinga described the event as a historical moment, noting the presence of his presidential election running-mate and Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula and Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, as well as former Bomett Governor Isaac Ruto, as an indication of “Team Nasa back together”. He also acknowledged Kanu leader and Baringo governor Gideon Moi, taking the presence of all major party leaders as indication of prevailing unity.

There was a moment of nervous laughter as Mr Odinga concluded his address. He had not noticed President Kenyatta tiptoe out, probably for the obligatory cigarette. As he turned back to invite the President, he noticed an empty seat, and was momentarily lost for words, before gathering his wits and calling on Mr Musyoka to say a few words.

OFF-THE-CUFF

“I’m not a substitute president,” Mr Musyoka joked as he took to the podium, going on to record his own support for BBI, and then turning to the president as he came back to take his seat: “Mr President, I became an opportunist as somebody had to speak”, he said.

Dr Ruto then called on President Kenyatta, who too described it an “a historic day when we can come together as leaders, as a country, to ask ourselves where we are, where we have come and where we want to go as a nation”.

He delivered a thoughtful off-the-cuff address that amplified Mr Odinga’s earlier history on the process, looking at electoral conflicts from the last polls in 2017. “We were not in a good place as a country. We were divided. There were no go zones for certain communities. The business environment was not good. Tension among leaders was being felt across the country. Anybody denying that is lying to himself”.

ADMINISTRATIVE

He recalled that when he and Mr Odinga eventually agreed to talk, it was very difficult to meet in such a hostile environment, and that’s why the opted to sit privately “so that if anything goes wrong, it will remain between the two of us”.

Kenyan leader, he said, can now talk to each other rather than shout at each other from the political podium.

President Kenyatta echoed Mr Odinga in saying that unveiling of the BBI report will be just the beginning of a long and exhaustive national dialogue, with no quick fixes. Some issues may require statute law or constitutional amendments, while others could be solved by administrative actions.

Some could be sorted by the current offices, and others may have to await a future crop of leaders.

Although speeches were largely conciliatory, both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga took time out to hit at the media, which they accused of engaging in inaccurate and speculative pieces that undermined BBI.

SOLUTIONS

President Kenyatta, in what read like an echo of Dr Ruto’s serial Twitter attacks, accused the media of engaging in ‘brown envelope’ journalism and selling misleading headlines.

Otherwise, President Kenyatta’s address was probably one of the most thoughtful and emotive during his leadership. Without reference to notes, he delivered what seemed a heartfelt appeal to reason, breaking down the issues that divide Kenya and lead to violent elections and feelings of alienation and resentment.

Other than appealing for tolerance and honest dialogue, it was notably that neither the President nor Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto delved into preferred solutions.

All three pointed out that the solutions will only start being unpacked once the BBI report is unveiled, with the President jokingly offering that he had the only available document, and did not have photocopiers to produce copies for general distribution. Others will have to wait until the report the BBI secretariat shared the report online, and then “and then all of you can print for yourselves using your own ink”.